Let's forget about the PS5 for a minute and instead look back to the PlayStation Portable, or PSP. Released in 2004 and discontinued a decade later, Sony's handheld console is still fondly remembered for games like LocoRoco and Wipeout Pure. A big fan of the former is Mushbuh, a 2D and 3D artist whose clay-like creations have adorned comics, Cartoon Network, and chiptune album covers.
Mushbuh has crafted cute, alien worlds for various records, with the latest being the LocoRoco soundtrack re-release, as issued by Fangamer on vinyl for the first time. A game about jelly-like blobs rolling about their kooky home planet is a perfect fit for the creator, and the result is a colourful and cosy-feeling triumph.
"When I was younger I saved up my money for a PSP 1001, the original 'phat model," Mushbuh tells us by email. "But for some reason, my family did not want me to play more games, so they took away my little red bin filled with coins and bills I made by doing chores around the neighbourhood. I was pretty upset, so instead, I would watch the trailers for games on the internet. I remember watching this trailer for LocoRoco many times. Eventually, I did end up getting a PSP and ended up playing LocoRoco a lot in school while pretending to pay attention!"
Cut to many years later when Fangamer reached out in 2019 to the artist to work on a large licensed IP. Details were kept secret, but the artist was already shocked to be considered for something very different in scale to his predominantly niche client base.
"I imagined all the IPs that Fangamer had access too, and I was preparing myself to work on a game I didn't know too much about. When I learned that it was LocoRoco, I was thrilled. By coincidence, I had actually been listening to the soundtrack around that time."
The final artwork suits the jolly tones of the original game music, as composed by Japan's SIE Sound Team. Mushbuh also manages to nail the essence of the game's bouncy heroes in a style unmistakably his own.
"LocoRoco has some of my favourite things about games: implemented soft-body physics, momentum, and moving fluid-like substances. So I wanted to make the front cover convey the squishiness of the characters. It has a nice mix of large chubby LocoRocos and tiny baby LocoRocos working together to form a nice sculpture."
"The inside spread was dedicated to the many creatures that affect their movement. One thing the game does very well via its soundtrack is to give you the impression that at times you are completely thrown around by the different little guys, so I wanted to make something kind of like that as the biggest artwork. The back has a lot of LocoRocos squeezing through a small opening. I think that feeling is also pretty important in the game."
One of the most challenging parts of the project for Mushbuh was creating the figures' faces as they had to fit within the guidelines perfectly. Fangamer licensing director Noah Lane helped during this process, serving as a middleman of sorts between the creator and Sony. "I really appreciate everything he did during that time," he says, "and working with Fangamer was one of the best experiences I've ever had."
When designing the initial sketches, Mushbuh had access to the original brand guideline package for the game and character sketches by LocoRoco creator Keigo Tsuchiya. Everything was then rendered using Blender 3D, with no actual clay involved in the process. This may be surprising to know, considering how 'lifelike' the final result appears.
"When people hire me, I assume they trust that my result will have the sort of compositional value that may not be found with other 3D artists. For me, it is kind of hard to put into words my actual creative process: Things have a specific weight and feel of where I think they should go. My compositions are more natural than planned, and a lot of things happen at the last moment, which makes my initial sketches somewhat useless."
We've been lucky to include some of these sketches within our feature. Marvel at more of Mushbuh's work on his official site.